Ah, the folly of courtship. Love makes people do crazy things, but fervor and passion take already crazed sports fans and put them into a new gear. Forgive me for being a tad hyperbolic. After all, no fan ran onto the court wearing a shirt that said, “Come Home” as someone did in 2013 to LeBron James. It would be impossible, however, to miss the signal: Kevin Durant, Washington, D.C., wants you to come home. But does he want us back?
Unfortunately for the hometown Wizards, Tuesday night’s attempt was almost the worst of all possible worlds. First, a noticeable portion of the crowd booed Durant. Then Durant left the game at halftime with a hamstring problem and did not return. Finally, Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double and Washington lost by 24.
Sure, the booing and jeering is understandable. As much as Wizards fans might want Durant, they wanted the Wizards to win. Before the game, media questions focused on comments Durant made earlier in the week about how he found the fans’ reception last year to be “disrespectful” because of the message it sent to the current players on the Wizards. This is truer to the issue of fan courtship because by outwardly displaying their desire for Durant to sign with the team, they are tacitly conveying that they are unsatisfied with the current makeup of the roster. Obviously, any team would get better by adding Durant, but fans have many reasons to support this current Wizards team. Don’t forget that this Wizards team is coming off of a 46-win season, its highest total since 1975-76, a playoff series win and, save for John Wall’s injury against Atlanta, a near-conference finals birth.
Ultimately, Durant’s decision is not going to be made by a pregame reception in the season’s seventh game — he is going to do the best thing for Durant. There is no question that when he becomes a free agent this summer, Durant will receive a maximum contract offer. Due to salary cap restrictions and collective bargaining agreements, Durant would be able to command as much as $25.5 million per year. Some analysts think Washington will have nearly that much money in cap room to offer Durant should they choose to sign Bradley Beal, another young budding star, to a maximum-level extension as well.
While money will surely matter for Durant, it will not be the deciding factor, because every team that courts him will have a max deal at the ready. What has to separate Washington is its ability to compete for championships, should Durant choose to come home. Washington already has John Wall and Marcin Gortat signed through 2019. Former Georgetown star Otto Porter and role players Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden are locked up through 2017. Adding Durant would also increase the likelihood that other quality players come to D.C. for less money than they could receive elsewhere because the title prospects are real.
There are several reasons why it is legitimately plausible to think Durant would choose D.C. over other cities. First, Wall is turning into an all-pro point guard and is developing well on both ends of the floor. Though Beal has more work to do, no one will deny he possesses great potential and, if he can stay healthy, is an invaluable asset.
Second, geography does play a role, but not in the way one might think. The Wizards reside in the notoriously weak Eastern Conference. Compare that to the status quo Durant faces by playing in the West. To reach the NBA Finals, Durant has to go through some combination of San Antonio, Golden State, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. In the East, there is only the LeBron-led Cavs. Since he came into the league in 2007, Durant has only made the finals once, in large part due to the sheer talent of his competition. Joining a young, vibrant and skilled Washington team in a watered-down conference could propel Durant to the finals and make it easier for him to get the championship rings he desperately wants.
Then there is the potential Durant’s arrival brings for basketball in D.C. Washington should be a basketball town, but it needs a catalyst. Durant playing in Washington would revitalize the passion for basketball and bring a much-needed energy boost to Verizon Center. So far, it seems like a compatible match, but the thing about love is that you never know if it is meant to be until you try.
Michael Ippolito is a junior in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Friday.
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